Berkeley police arrested two people — one encampment resident and one observer — while closing and clearing out an encampment at Seventh and Harrison streets in West Berkeley on Tuesday.
The closure came after a judge lifted a temporary restraining order against clearing the encampment at the end of September in an ongoing lawsuit against the city of Berkeley for destroying residents’ possessions.
The city served the “notice of imminent health hazard and emergency abatement” on a short stretch of Harrison Street between Seventh and Eighth streets on Nov. 2 and began the closure around 7 a.m. Tuesday.
The city is required to give at least 72 hours’ notice before abatement. It is enforcing its “shared sidewalk policy” at Harrison Street, which requires that people limit their belongings to 9 square feet of space (or a 3-foot by 3-foot square) after a notice is served.
Erin Spencer, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and encampment resident, was arrested almost “immediately” when police and city workers arrived at the scene Thursday, advocates said. Spencer had moved his items across the street from an area where a closure notice was posted to a location fenced off by the city before the sweep and was still moving items when the abatement began.
NEW: @CityofBerkeley is starting a #sweep tomorrow at 7th & Harrison Streets, asking #unhoused residents to consolidate their belongings to a 3×3 feet square or risk arrest & citations. But this footprint is so small that you can barely sit in it and save any essential property. pic.twitter.com/iku1BKuSAo— Yesica Prado🔎📊📸 🎧 🎥✨️ (@Prado_Reports) November 6, 2023
Peter Radu, head of the city’s homeless response team who was at the scene, said he had spoken with Spencer multiple times before the closure commenced Tuesday, adding that Spencer was being uncooperative with clearing the area. Spencer was arrested on suspicion of unlawful lodging.
“When he was arrested, we stored what we could, and we’re going to discard the rest, as we do in accordance with our storage policy,” Radu said. The 24-hour notice to clear out Spencer’s belongings, as required, was dated Monday.
At 12:30 p.m., Berkeley police arrested Chloe Madison, who was protesting the closure and questioning why Spencer’s items were removed. After Madison turned a megaphone to a police officer’s ear, the officer arrested Madison. Officer Matthew Valle said he sustained hearing loss and arrested Madison for violating Berkeley municipal code 14.32.040, “standing in roadway,” as well as resisting arrest and battery on an officer.
Advocates called into question whether Spencer’s arrest and seizure of property violated any terms set forth by the lawsuit, such as the 72-hour notice. Radu said Spencer was given an option to move into the Super 8 Motel and ample notice to move possessions this year.
The city has been pushing to close the longstanding encampment at Eighth and Harrison for multiple years since the pandemic shelter-in-place order was lifted in the summer of 2021, saying the area is hazardous to the health and safety of its residents and neighbors, attracts rats and vermin and generates large amounts of trash.
Residents say they don’t have the resources to maintain the encampment, like portable toilets and dumpsters. Many have been offered alternate housing, but congregate options where residents live in groups can be unsafe or difficult to transition into.
Tuesday’s abatement covered a small portion of the Harrison Street encampment where most residents lived in tents, and a handful took housing offers at the Super 8 Motel.
RV residents who previously resided at the city’s safe parking site, which closed last December, live in other areas of the West Berkeley encampment.
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